The Best Man, With James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, John Larroquette, Opens on Broadway

By Kenneth Jones
01 Apr 2012

Eric McCormack and John Larroquette
Eric McCormack and John Larroquette
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Best Man, Gore Vidal's 1960 play about the lead-up to a U.S. presidential election, about two candidates seeking their party's nomination, gets its second Broadway revival — and a starry one, at that — opening April 1 following previews from March 6 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. John Larroquette and Eric McCormack play opponents.

Michael Wilson (Dividing the Estate, The Orphans' Home Cycle) directs an ensemble that includes two-time Tony Award winner James Earl Jones (Fences, The Great White Hope) as a dying former U.S. president ready to give his endorsement (but to whom?); Tony and Emmy Award winner John Larroquette as candidate William Russell (a former Secretary of State with a troubled marriage, a hint of mental illness); Emmy and Golden Globe winner Candice Bergen ("Murphy Brown") as Russell's wife; Emmy Award winner Eric McCormack as ruthless candidate Sen. Joseph Cantwell (who is billed as "naked ambition"); Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife) as a former Army colleague of the senator; Tony nominee Kerry Butler (Xanadu, Hairspray) as Cantwell's Southern spitfire wife; Drama Desk Award winner Michael McKean (The Pajama Game, Superior Donuts) as Russell's campaign manager; and five-time Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury (Mame, Sweeney Todd, Gypsy, Dear World) as Sue-Ellen, who has the ear of women voters.

The company also includes Curtis Billings, Corey Brill (as Cantwell's campaign manager), Tony Carlin, Donna Hanover (as a journalist), Sherman Howard, Olja Hrustic, Bill Kux (as a psychiatrist), James Lecesne, Dakin Matthews (as a senator), Angelica Page, Fred Parker Jr. and Amy Tribbey.

The auditorium of the Schoenfeld is festooned with red, white and blue bunting, placards and signs that suggest the world of the political convention, being held in Philadelphia. A TV journalist (played by Sherman Howard) in the house-left box provides commentary and exposition. Director Wilson also uses projections and live video to make this star package an even more eye-popping experience.



Here's how the producers bill The Best Man: "A play about power, ambition, political secrets, ruthlessness and the race for the presidency, Gore Vidal's The Best Man is set at the national convention where two candidates are vying for their party's nomination during the primary season. It's an inside look at the dirt-digging, double-dealing, triple-crossing chicanery of presidential electioneering and what could be more fun in a presidential campaign season than these theatrical fireworks."

Read the Playbill magazine feature about how the stars converged for the revival.

Angela Lansbury
photo by Joan Marcus

John Gromada composes music for the production. The design team includes Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning scenic designer Derek McLane, Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning lighting designer Kenneth Posner, five-time Tony Award-nominated costume designer Ann Roth, hair designer Josh Marquette,and projection designer Peter Nigrini. Matthew Farrell is production stage manager.

Gore Vidal's The Best Man is lead-produced by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel and INFINITY Stages.

The Best Man originally ran on Broadway in 1960 and was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Play. Melvyn Douglas, portraying candidate William Russell, a former secretary of state, won the Tony Award for outstanding actor. The production ran for 521 performances.

The play last appeared on Broadway in September 2000 starring Elizabeth Ashley, Charles Durning, Christine Ebersole, Spalding Gray, Michael Learned, Chris Noth, Mark Blum, Jonathan Hadary and Jordan Lage. The production was honored with the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Revival of a Play.

Visit www.thebestmanonbroadway.com for information.

Tickets are also available by visiting Telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200.

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Jones (Fences, The Great White Hope, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Driving Miss Daisy) plays the former President of the United States, Artie Hockstader. Charles Durning played former President Hockstader in the 2000 revival.

McCormack spent five seasons with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival where his roles included Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Tusenbach in Three Sisters and Orleans in Henry V. He made his Broadway debut starring as Harold Hill in The Music Man, and returned to New York for the American premiere of Neil LaBute's Some Girl(s), for Off-Broadway's MCC Theatre. Next year, he will be both star and a producer on the new TNT drama, "Perception." (The role of Senator Cantwell was played by Cliff Robertson in the film adaptation and Chris Noth in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Best Man.)

Bergen appeared on Broadway in the mid-1980s in Hurlyburly. She is best known for starring in the TV series "Murphy Brown" (1988-1998), for which she won five Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards; and as Shirley Schmidt on "Boston Legal" (2004-2008), for which she was nominated for two Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award (she shared the screen with Larroquette). Her film appearances include "The Group," "The Sand Pebbles," "Carnal Knowledge," "The Wind and the Lion," "Gandhi," "Rich and Famous" and "Starting Over," for which she was Oscar-nominated.

Lansbury is known for TV's "Murder, She Wrote" and for her Broadway appearances in Mame, Dear World, Sweeney Todd, 1974's Gypsy, 2009's A Little Night Music, 2009's Blithe Spirit, Deuce, A Taste of Honey and Anyone Can Whistle. Her films include "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Gaslight."

Larroquette recently starred as J.B. Biggley in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, for which he won 2011 Tony and Drama Desk Awards. He's a five-time Emmy Award-winning actor, best known as Assistant District Attorney Dan Fielding on NBC's "Night Court," which earned him four Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He also starred in the NBC comedy series "The John Larroquette Show," was a series regular on "Boston Legal" and won his fifth Emmy Award for a guest-starring role on "The Practice."

McKean is internationally known for playing Lenny on TV's "Laverne & Shirley," and for his work in the film mockumentaries "This Is Spinal Tap," "A Mighty Wind" and "Best In Show." He is currently appearing in The Public Theater's production of King Lear. He won the 2008 Drama Desk Award for his performance in Broadway's The Homecoming (Outstanding Ensemble Performance). Other Broadway credits include Superior Donuts. The Pajama Game, Hairspray and Accomplice (Theatre World Award). He co-wrote the Grammy-winning theme to "A Mighty Wind" (with Chris Guest and Eugene Levy) and the Oscar-nominated "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" with his wife Annette O'Toole.

Kerry Butler starred in Broadway's Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can, Little Shop of Horrors and Xanadu (for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Tony).